#1
I've always had an interest in the Classical Japanese Language, being a fan of traditional Japanese culture since my childhood the idea of learning the literary language that was used throughout all of ancient Japanese history is very appealing to me. Added to that I absolutely love yamato kotoba and the native grammar structures of the Japanese language (as opposed to those  aspects that were altered/influenced by Chinese),  and Classical Japanese abound with those.

However if this is an endeavor that I'm going to undertake it's only going to be in the future, when I get modern Japanese really nailed down. Still though there are some things that make me think twice on the possibility of studying kobun eventually or not.

First my main interest in the language is in the language itself, it's grammar, syntax , forms and vocabulary,  not so much in the literature. Sure it could be fun to read about those things that I like so much first hand (traditional culture/history), but that can't be the ONLY thing I'm going to do with the language. I have discovered from previous experiences that diving too much in the past is not healthy for my mind.
 
So if I'm not going to be mostly reading ancient literature what am I going to do with the language? How am I going to interact with it/use it? There lies the problem
So the problem for me is not so much if it's worth it to invest the time on learning an ancient language(in this case kobun), but what am I going to do with it after I've started to learn it.

What about you, what are your thoughts on kobun, have you ever studied it/do you think about studying it? Do you think it's worth it for you to undertake this challenge for whatever reason, practical or not?
Edited: 2017-11-07, 8:21 am
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#2
Kobun isn't just literature, we have a lot of essays and nonfiction in classical Japanese

I like it in poetry and it's not thay difficult, and some essays like hojoki are quite easy to read. If you're looking for pre-Chinese influence then good luck with that, tho: the older you go the more Chinese it is.

Also, it's not really that much of an ancient language. Japanese evolved quite gradually, so it is a looot easier to read old texts than in other languages. I'd say classical Japanese is to modern Japanese what early modern English is to English: nothing as far removed as Old English around, unless you dive into the heavily Chinese influenced pre-Heian texts.
Edited: 2017-11-07, 8:41 am
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#3
I haven't studied it myself, so no idea how much of a factor this plays and when, but there was no written Japanese until Japanese (monks and nobles?) learned Chinese.
At one point, the writing was phonetic, but not ideographic in the least, and it wasn't until later that Japanese scholars started to use 訓読み to simplify Japanese texts to be more like Chinese texts (like reading 山 as やま to drop one character and better express the meaning; though I don't remember if kana had been invented yet at that point)

To me, the interesting part of old Japanese is how it interacted with, and eventually separated itself from Chinese.

I do think it's worth it to study at some point.
Like reading early Modern English (or even Middle English) is good for more fully appreciating English as a language (and understanding some etymology), I think doing the same for Japanese would be good for anyone that has learned the language to a useful level.
Edited: 2017-11-07, 10:02 am
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#4
So how old does something to be to be considered kobun? Would stufff on Aozora bunko count or Is it even older ? If the stuff on Aozora bunko count I recommend getting a kindle read that stuff. Not everything is in the dictionary but I think most of them are
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#5
(2017-11-07, 10:08 am)howtwosavealif3 Wrote: So how old does something to be to be considered kobun? Would stufff on Aozora bunko count or Is it even older ? If the stuff on Aozora bunko count I recommend getting a kindle read that stuff. Not everything is in the dictionary but I think most of them are

Kobun would be anything before 1903, if I remember the dates correctly, as that is when the Meiji government  worked of their script reform, the big changes where almost everything changed to the modern "spoken" style, occurred after WW2. So, you're going to  be looking at Edo and earlier with occasional things written in the early to mid Meiji.
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#6
Iirc kobun refers to edo&older (if you talk about writing) and pre-ww2 kanjis. I don't think Meiji counts, though it would provide an impressive collection of nonfiction texts.

I'd hate to deny you all that fun combination of imported french words in katakana, mingled with so much katakana everywhere and Kanjis that are more like traditional Chinese, tho. We it's a special kind of anger.
Edited: 2017-11-07, 7:07 pm
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#7
(2017-11-07, 7:07 pm)Zgarbas Wrote: Iirc kobun refers to edo&older (if you talk about writing) and pre-ww2 kanjis. I don't think Meiji counts, though it would provide an impressive collection of nonfiction texts.

I'd hate to deny you all that fun combination of imported french words in katakana, mingled with so much katakana everywhere and Kanjis that are more like traditional Chinese, tho. We it's a special kind of anger.

A quick google search tells me, that it was used in the Meiji period, but it quickly dropped in popularity, particularly with letters and things like that.
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#8
I can see why: it's atrocious.
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#9
Ukigumo by Futabatei Shimei, the first part of which was published in 1887, is considered to be the first novel written in modern Japanese. Pretty much everything written before it will be in the Classical style (or an attempted approximation thereof). Classical Japanese persisted the longest in things like laws and certain official government communications, even well into the Showa era, with the end of WWII being the final turning point.

While it's true that the earliest writing in Japanese shows massive Chinese influence, it's interesting to note that actual Classical Japanese as we know it today, which was more or less codified in the Heian era, used comparatively few Chinese loanwords, with the major exception being Buddhist texts and commentaries on them. I recall having read somewhere that it wasn't until the increase in literacy among commoners in the Edo era that the spoken language experienced an influx of Chinese loanwords. But then, it can sometimes be hard to tell in writing whether a certain set of characters is supposed to be read as native Japanese words or Chinese ones (for example 戦場 - せんじょう or いくさば? the former is much more common nowadays, but probably not originally).
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#10
Quote:Kobun isn't just literature, we have a lot of essays and nonfiction in classical Japanese

By that do you mean there were these kinds of texts in the past or that they are still being produced today?

Quote:Also, it's not really that much of an ancient language. Japanese evolved quite gradually, so it is a looot easier to read old texts than in other languages. I'd say classical Japanese is to modern Japanese what early modern English is to English: nothing as far removed as Old English around, unless you dive into the heavily Chinese influenced pre-Heian texts.
Would you consider that your brain would interpret Classical Japanese as a completely different language or more or less as an extension of Modern Japanese? Because I always considered Middle English to be an extension of Modern English for what I've read, even though I've never studied it. I know that Anglo Saxon is an entirely different game though.


Now everything that I'll write as follows is based on information that I've read a long time ago and my memories may be a bit shady, so please take everything I'll say with a grain of salt, it is not my aim to spread misinformation.

I have read an old book from the turn of the twentieth century that fully explained the differences between kanbun and kobun and their evolution through time, it was an excelent book and it's a shame I can't find it again on archive.org. There are a lot of excelent old books on the Japanese language from the later half of the nineteenth century and turn of the twentieth century there and these books often  give us insights that modern scholars can't. Modern scholars usually tend to simplify the change from the literary language to the spoken colloquial as a turning point at a determinate time in history but I think it wasn't like that, the two forms coexisted for decades until the literary language gradually fell into disuse, there was a lot of literary movements from both sides trying to make their form become the standard for written communications. One thing I'm almost 100% sure about though: I don't believe you can say that Meiji era works were mostly bungo, there was already a lot of instances of putting the spoken form on paper but that is not all: There was  not only kobun and spoken but also forms in-between, attempts to blend the two standards etc. So if you really want to read authentic kobun your best bet would be to look at works from the Edo era backwards.

Now about kanbun and kobun, from what I remember that I've read it is true that first Ancient Chinese was used as the written language in Japan only, but after some time(I believe it was in the Heian era), one form of the Japanese language started to be used in writting also, and this form of now written Japanese had nothing in common with the literary Chinese at all, in fact the book stated that they were two languages completely apart from each other in every way. And from what I could understand also this Classical Japanese language besides the usage of kanji later on did not have much influence from the Chinese language regarding vocabulary. I believe that the process of the Chinese vocabulary entering the Japanese language took many centuries and I don't know to which extent it entered the Classical Language or if it only permeated the spoken language(apart from kanbun obviously).
So both languages(kanbun and kobun) coexisted in Japan for centuries and both were used for very specific purposes, the book taught me for which purpose which language was used but I forgot it(it's a shame I can't find the book again), these two languages, as I said, were completely different from each other.

So if someone has any interest at all in learning a pure Japanese language for the sake of it I believe that kobun could prove to be satisfactory, it seems that language had little influence whether it be in grammar or vocabulary.


Quote:I can see why: it's atrocious.

Why?

EDIT: I believe I have found the book, it is funny how the author calls kanbun as the instance where a language(Chinese) has been the "most butchered", LOL.

https://archive.org/stream/historicalgra...0/mode/2up


To anyone that is interested in the Japanese language for itself and not only for modern practical purposes, I advise to take a look at the old books available at archive.org. A lot of old gems in there that offer the perspectives of scholars of the language in the end of an era, both historically, politically and grammatically, as that was the time when Modern Japanese was really being established.
Edited: 2017-11-08, 9:34 am
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#11
The 万葉集 (Man'youshuu) predate the Heian period, and are written largely in the Japanese of the time. If you want to work through some of the very earliest written Japanese, you could start there. Alexander Vovin has a series of books that I think are very thorough, but you also likely will want a grammar book for the language of the period. He has written a set of two books on that subject, as well. Those books are fairly expensive, though, and definitely take some effort, particularly at first. For Classical Japanese (defined as starting in the Heian era, I think), which might be what you mean by kobun, there are some books available, too. I haven't tried kanbun yet. I'm not sure I'm ready for the pain. Smile I can't predict what you will enjoy reading. I have Shirane's books (see Amazon), but I haven't looked at them much yet, and I don't know good they might be.
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#12
(2017-11-08, 4:48 pm)bertoni Wrote: The 万葉集 (Man'youshuu) predate the Heian period, and are written largely in the Japanese of the time.  If you want to work through some of the very earliest written Japanese, you could start there.  Alexander Vovin has a series of books that I think are very thorough, but you also likely will want a grammar book for the language of the period.  He has written a set of two books on that subject, as well.  Those books are fairly expensive, though, and definitely take some effort, particularly at first.  For Classical Japanese (defined as starting in the Heian era, I think), which might be what you mean by kobun, there are some books available, too.  I haven't tried kanbun yet.  I'm not sure I'm ready for the pain. Smile  I can't predict what you will enjoy reading.  I have Shirane's books (see Amazon), but I haven't looked at them much yet, and I don't know good they might be.
Thanks for the reference, I didn't know that the Japanese that predated the Classical had been codified, I'll look into that but my main interest would be to have a go at Classical first.

Yes, Shirane's book will probably be my main text if I do decide to study this language, which I'm not sure about yet. However, I'm really not sure if it would be worth it for a non-Japanese to study kanbun, from old texts that I've read(see post above), the scholar said that kanbun was oftentimes a slaughetring of Chinese and incomprehensible to a chinaman. So my take is that maybe it would be more worth it for a non-native of Japanese to just go straight to old Chinese if one wants to understand Old Chinese(but I wonder if that approach would do any good to understand texts actually written in kanbun).


One of the problems that I find with this matter of kobun/kanbun apart from the fact there aren't much to do with the languages besides to read old stuff is that it seems that to be able to "understand the whole" picture and get the whole experience of the "kobun world" one would also have to learn kanbun and for that possibly Modern Chinese. That is the problem for me because my interest lies really in the Japanese language and its structures, not that I don't find Chinese interesting, it's just that I don't want to spread myself too thin with two of the most difficult languages of the planet and would rather focus myself in just one.

I wonder if there is someone out there in the forums that has studied these languages to an advanced level and can share their opinions on the matter? Is there anything to do with the languages(kobun and kanbun) apart from reading old stuff? Also does one also need to study kanbun to "get the whole picture" of kobun?
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#13
...what else do you do with a dead language but read old stuff? A lot if old and ancient stuff can be found for free on the Internet these days, just google things and have some fun with it. It's really not like learning a new language (maybe kanbun is, but I only care about literature so i never bothered with it), it is still Japanese with funnier words and cuter grammar... and some annoying bits like lack of tentens and punctuation (mostly fixed in newer editions).

Learning modern Chinese helps a lot with pre-ww2 texts. Most classical texts these days are sold with annotations or explanations so you can just manage. Unless you're into handwritten stuff, in which only the gods, time, and intense study of calligraphy can save you.

If you want a 'pure' Japanese language, I'd suggest you start learning Okinawan tho :p perhaps I'm overthinking it, but your undderstanding of kobun/kanbun seems to have a lot of bias against Chinese. Unfortunately, a lot of stuff written about Japan has orientalist/nationalist bias in it, so watch out for that.
Edited: 2017-11-08, 6:08 pm
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#14
Quote:...what else do you do with a dead language but read old stuff? A lot if old and ancient stuff can be found for free on the Internet these days, just google things and have some fun with it.

Well, if it was still somehow in use I would have more reasons to learn it, for now the main reason I want to do so is mostly because of my interest in the language itself, not so much in its literature, although I do find that interesting as well.
I wonder what fraction of the total of kobun texts are actually digitized or printed though? As you said reading handwritting Japanese is something terrible to consider and a project that I have no intention to undertake in the near future.




Quote:If you want a 'pure' Japanese language, I'd suggest you start learning Okinawan tho :p perhaps I'm overthinking it, but your undderstanding of kobun/kanbun seems to have a lot of bias against Chinese. Unfortunately, a lot of stuff written about Japan has orientalist/nationalist bias in it, so watch out for that.

I have no bias against Chinese, I think it's a lovely language and I've studied it for a month many years ago, it's just that the way Japanese is structured(its logic) interests me so much that I think it is most interesting to study an ancient form of the language that hasn't had much of influences from others, because I believe that in that language I'll be able to experience the Japanese structure in its purest form. It is only linguistic curiosity and pleasure that is all, and is completely unrelated to if I find Chinese interesting or not. Just for the record I do find Chinese interesting though(although I find Classical Chinese even more so) and I would like to study it if I had two available brains lol.

You talk about Okinawan language, yes I know it's a language in the Japonic family but it is not really Japanese so I'm not really interested in studying it for now. As far as I know Classical Japanese if not 100% linguistically pure is much closer to that than Modern Japanese, and the fact that it is the ancient form of Modern Japanese, a language that I'm studying, makes it even more interesting to eventually dive into it.
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#15
Coincidentally the book I'm currently reading (Tanizaki's 幼少時代) has a few kanbun and kobun quotations in it. The reader appears to be expected to be able to comprehend the kobun, but the kanbun gets the full-furigana of the decoded reading.

The author describes the teaching method used when he studied in a circa-1900 juku studying kanbun -- the tutor would read aloud the kanbun, and if the student could then successfully read it out loud, that was a pass. No study of the actual meaning required :-)
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